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Main points from Scotland’s selection as Jonny Gray replaces banned brother Richie

Jonny Gray is back in to cover from banned brother Richie against the Pumas.
Jonny Gray is back in to cover from banned brother Richie against the Pumas.

Richie Gray’s ban from the final Autumn test against Argentina is a blow what would have been near seamless continuity, as Gregor Townsend has kept virtually the same Scotland team that played New Zealand last Sunday.

Hamish Watson’s absence through concussion means Jack Dempsey will get his first start at No 8, with Matt Fagerson moving to the blindside flank.

Jonny Gray replaces his elder brother, banned for a dangerous clearout for three games by a retrospective disciplinary panel.

‘We all expected him to get off’

Townsend called the resurgent veteran’s ban as “a blow for us because he has been playing so well”.

“I’ve gone into hearings before feeling confident that what we’ve seen were rugby incidents, that don’t merit red cards,” said the coach.

“We all expected him to get off but we are not the judge in this. Accidents happen at ruck clears, accidents happen in tackles.

“Hamish (Watson) went off injured because he got his head caught on Jordie Barrett’s hip. We believed (Gray’s case) was an accident but the panel decided it was a red card.

“(The hearing) lasted four and a half hours. It started before we began training and it was still going on after we’d finished.

“I know Richie had no intent in his actions. He’s never been red carded or cited in his career.”

Scottish Rugby puzzled by panel

Privately, the SRU are puzzled that one of the disciplinary panel deliberating on Gray’s case was former referee Juan-Pablo Spirandelli, an Argentinian – just three days before the Scots play the Pumas.

There were four three-person disciplinary panels convened under World Rugby regulations this week for incidents in last weekend’s games.

Eight individuals in total – including former Scotland head coach Frank Hadden – were sitting in judgement on the four cases. The only potential conflict of interest was that of Spirandelli.

It’s understood that this issue was raised at the hearing. Scottish Rugby are likely to raise it again with World Rugby for the future.

However, given that this is the final test of 2022, it’s unlikely that the Scots appeal the ban. They did successfully reduce a Zander Fagerson ban at a hearing during the last Six Nations.

Those final 15 minutes

Scotland’s last four losses have all been after they led in the game, but Townsend feels it’s not so much last-quarter struggles as failure to take earlier chances.

“That’s been part of our review and improvement process,” he said. “Last week, the opportunities we didn’t take in the earlier 50-minute period are probably more relevant to us not winning the game.

“But, we still have to be better in those last 15 minutes. In the Australia game we went from a situation of being nine points up and almost scoring a try, to giving away a penalty and yellow-card and being one point behind.

“But we did come back after that and had a chance to win. On the weekend we feel we should have been further ahead on the scoreboard.

“Yes, we could have done better in the last 10-15 minutes. They made inroads into our defence which had been really strong up until that point.”

Murphy Walker can get to France, but needs more games

Murphy Walker (with fellow Strathallan FP and captain Jamie Ritchie) made his debut against Fiji.

The young Longforgan prop is back on the bench. Townsend and scrum coach Pieter de Villiers like the 23-year-old but they both concede he’s not played enough top class rugby yet.

“I think it’s just one game this season,” Townsend said. “Fiji we identified as a good opportunity for him (for his first cap) and there were a lot of scrums in that game.

“He’s impressed us at training, he’s gone up against both the Argentinian loose-heads playing against Treviso, so we believe this is a good game for another opportunity.”

Miles on the clock are probably more vital at tight-head than any other position, and Walker needs to get more if he’s going to go to France next autumn.

“He’s going to be an option for us at the World Cup,” continued Townsend. “He should be, he’s got a strong case because he can cover loose and tight head.

“But we want to see him play more rugby. He’ll get a chance this week and I’m hoping that Glasgow will give him more opportunities.

“His time (with Scotland) should help that given he’s played test rugby against Fiji and again this weekend.”

Other bench issues

There are five more changes on the bench other than Walker, with five of them having single figures in caps.

Ewan Ashman irritated his shoulder injury in his 10-minute cameo against New Zealand so George Turner returns, and Jamie Bhatti replaces the injured Rory Sutherland.

Lock Glen Young is back on the bench as is Andy Christie, both as a result of the enforced changes in the starting team.

Cam Redpath is preferred to Mark Bennett as the backs replacement. “We just feel last week was a better opportunity and opponent for Mark,” said Townsend. “This week we want to give Cam that opportunity.”